April 20, 2007
A few things that happened over the last week…
Driving on I-10 a little after 11pm, on the way to pick up a friend at the airport, I tune into Q-93, the local hip-hop and R&B station. The DJ—either Wild Wayne or AD Berry--opened the phone lines to callers with thoughts on a recent news story: in a New York Times profile, Recovery Czar Edward Blakely gave a bruising account of his tenure in New Orleans, including money lines on the racial divide:
'It's a culture of domination rather than participation. So whatever group gets something they try to dominate the whole turf”
and the one that caught most people’s un-fancy:
‘(People who move to the city from elsewhere are) going to come here without the same attitudes of the locals.
'I think, if we create the right signals, they're going to come here, and they're going to say 'Who are these buffoons?'
One woman who calls into Q93 said her message to Blakely is:
'If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of a problem.'
Hey, that’s just it: Blakely’s the recovery czar: he is THE part of the solution. If he’s bent like this, it’s not because things are better than he’s saying or because he's out to condescend all of us. Things are fucked.
My question for the many citizens who shook their heads with the gasface: had you read his plan? Can we talk about that? Would seem worthy of radio and watercooler chats, no? More important than what he told the Times, right?
Look, I wrote about meeting Blakely a few months ago. He was pissed then, so I can only imagine how pissed he is now. That night, the entire crowd of the mayor’s fur-cloaked supporters lived it up on 3 floors. Blakely struck me as highly disgusted. His latests comments sound no different.
I’m supposed to say, “What buffoons? Are you talking about me?” Really? I think we all know which ones he’s talking about. We see a city government in a shambled caricature of its past self. We hear the clicking from the continued death of street lights, the early-1990’s murder rate, the fumbled posturing of the leadership when out-of-town congressional delegations arrive.
We know who is selling us short. Have we become so sensitive that we’ll even defend our saboteurs?
Brought to her beloved knees by brake failure, the LTD is, as they say down here, about to go home. We’re going to miss that car. Since the wheels must continue to turn, Kim and I decided to purchase a new used car immediately to forestall emergency. Just a few blocks down Camp Street, I checked around in Bridge House car lot. Bridge House is a rehabilitation home for men that sells donated used-vehicles.
The first time through, I spoke with two dudes who had shopped there before. The lot was closed for the evening, but these guys said
the deals were real good,
you could beat ‘em down,
and that the one guy had picked up like 5 cars there over the years, never had a problem.
The 2nd time, Mr. Millions and I stopped in on a Saturday morning and spoke with a salesman, Billy, who is originally from North Carolina. He lives in Bridge House now after living the last 5 years in Key West. Millions and I took a Chevy Lumina out for a test drive with Billy in the back, up to Dat’s Grocery and back, the long way, with Billy complaining that I drove too wildy. I was test-driving, though, you know?
In subsequent conversations with Kim (Mr. Millions of course contributing his testimony), a consensus arose: Bridge House has good deals, is a legit and charitable enterprise; we have to get something, the LTD is a mess; we need to be sure the price is right.
Well, on the 3rd trip, we ended up with a 1998 Ford Windstar Van. It resided in Slidell for the last 8 years, seats 7, is a deep aqua blue. Make what you will of this decision.
The French Quarter festival sure is crowded nowadays, alright. I remember my first one as a surprise—I didn’t even know it was happening, but had taken my mother on a tour of the Quarter and there it was, people playing all over the street. A few times this year, we had to force our way through crowds along the river. At least for a moment, though, it was worth it.
On the second day of the festival, Saturday, Kim and I witnessed the wedding of Kermit Ruffins. Along with thousands of others, we celebrated the vows and matrimony of the best-dude-you-know and his blushing fine lady. We truly felt honored, and stood awestruck yet again in a fragile epiphany of New Orleans. There’s the enternal twist: if visions are what you need, our city has them in abundance.
Kermit played his bride onto the stage, trumpet pointed to the stage stairs as the wedding party entered. All took their places and waved, and in one video, you can hear the riverboat Natchez blow its whistle.
As the vows rang in the microphone, Kermit held his trumpet in hand.
When the bride had received her kiss and the applause began in full throat, Kermit resumed blowing. The world on a string…
After the purchase of the Windstar, I drop Kim off at a T-Mobile building in Metairie, where she does work for the Red Cross. On the way back to the house, I screw up a little bit when I get off the Earhart Expressway. Then, trying to cut around to hit Claiborne Avenue, I drive through Gert Town.
Gert Town is in between Uptown and Mid City, near to Xavier University, by the entrance to a major highway. I remember it as a depressed area, but populated, a place people would tell you they were from, though back then I think I got it confused with Pigeon town.
At a planning meeting a few months ago, I heard an enraged man demand the recognition and protection of Gert Town. By all sights completely mad, an African-American man in his fifties, he lambasted the committee and all who forgot about Gert Town. He proclaimed Gert Town the true birthplace of jazz, a bastion against (and target of) Anglo-Saxonism, a proud fortress, the primary concern of any righteous council. He spoke of the ancient days and conspiracy, and we watched him in the monitors of the chamber. The committee members slumped and the public muttered laughs, looked at their watches or the ceiling.
To punctuate his speech, the man warned angrily,
I’m not gonna let you forget about Gert Town, I’m gonna be here everyday. SO CHECK ME!
With that, he surrendered the podium.
As I slowly maneuver the van through the rutted streets of Gert Town, I survey that man’s Valhalla. There are people rebuilding there, but there are also abandoned blocks. Squat grocery stores wear shells of board and are swallowed slowly by weeds. There are people rebuilding there, but a whole lot of Gert Town is ghostly at 3 in the afternoon.
I go slower, gazing once again at all the people not there, at the non-handshakes and absent blown receipts, the missing very old and very young. I feel why that man went mad, then I silently tell the van that we need to get around more.
April 3, 2007
Sunday, April 1
The plan today is to attend a panel discussion at the Tennessee Williams Festival, for which I have free passes from work and cross the river to Algiers Point for the 4th annual Riverfest. A solid overcast sky greets us when we wake up, with the chance of rain seemingly the only threat to our day.
Muriel's Restaurant, Jackson Square: Uptown ladies listen to general homage to Faulkner's difficulty.
Algiers: As we walk along the levee's spine back from the Old Point Bar, I think I hear Irvin Mayfield's quartet doin...yep, that is... yes: the well-known bassline of A Love Supreme. Dah da Dah da, Dah da Dah da.
Descent of the Indians, stealing the show.
I excuse myself to visit the port-a-john, and stop at the side of the stage to watch the slow exit stage right.
We stand against the barriers after our friends leave, listen to the great Dr. Michael White.
In the darkest shades of dusk, we board the ferry and lean against the rail on the first level near the cars. A barge crosses in front of us just after we leave port, and when we cut against its wake, a wave runs over the deck and soaks my feet and shins. I have Mississippi in my shoes for the walk across the Quarter.